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Turkey: Cappadocia Day 1 & 2

View of Cappadocia from Uchisar Castle Soganli

Every tourist here in Istanbul seem to have Cappadocia on their itinerary. I overheard many talking about their plans. I'm no different, but instead of a package tour, I plan to go with a rental car. Price of petrol seems quite steep here, but the plan is set and the wheels are in motion. Hoping to be able to get out to the countyside early in the morning before the sun rises and before sunset, so a car will be useful. I will be flying into Nevsehir, not too many flights per week, and then transfer to Urgup to pick up my car and drive to Goreme for the night. Goreme will be my base for this trip.

Cappadocia is, of course, famous for 2 things I am aware of. First are the cappadocian horses, which I don't expect to see this trip, and second the rock cut churches where the first christian cultists practised their religion in the early years, away from the eyes of their Roman masters.

4 September 2009: 0728hrs: Airport pickup at my hotel in Istanbul. This is one of those shuttle that picks up a bunch of people in different hotels. Cost 10TL so it is cheap. This morning is not a good day for the driver as all the passengers are late out of their hotel except for me. The driver and I exchanged complaints about late passengers while we waited. You could guess what kind of passengers. Follow your stereotypical instincts.

1143hrs: Arrived in Nevsehir after a standard flight. Nothing special to report about. The landscape on the way didn't look too spectacular and the place looks dotted with many small villages. I can imagine driving to those places looking for high ground for a better view.

View from up high...

Nevsehir airport is quite far away from the city. Nothing much here, just an airport in the middle of nowhere. On arrival, I get picked up by a shuttle I booked online and next destination Urgup. The minivan zips through some desert and a town or two. Towns here look like typical eastern european mid sized cities, with a small town center and everything else is made up of standard issue apartment buildings made to be utilitarian rather to look good. Realised I was talking about Nevsehir! Nothing to see here, so we go past it on the way to Urgup.

Not too many flights to Nevsehir airport. Today there are less than 5.

Nothing special about Urgup either, but the city center looks more tourist friendly than the previous one. This is where I pick up my rental car. This time I get a sedan Renault Clio 1.4 but before it sounds like a car of the year, the one I got is a wreck, or half way to becoming so. There are knocks all over, and I swear it looks like this car is made of fiberglass. The knocks looks like it is. The cigarette lighter is not working, not a showstopped but I will have issues with my GPS power if this is the case. And even for a rental car company as big as National, this one gets delivered with no fuel in the tank! All I get is a tip on the nearest petrol kiosk on the way out to Goreme.

Goreme is easy enough to find. Just follow the sign that says Goreme Open Air Museum. Next stop, check into Kelebek Hotel. I have the coordinates in my GPS but still it took some time to look for it. Not too easy considering it is perched on top of a hill. Nice views from here. I get to have a cave single room that apparently used to be a small chapel during the early Christian times. Along the way to Goreme I passed the open air museum and the whole landscape is dotted with little caves carved into rock. The stone here is flaky, which explains why it doesn't take too much effort to hack one out. But thinking about it, if the early settlers here all have chapels, and at time Christianity was banned, this place starts to sound like a 4th century cult compound!

Did I mentioned this hotel is nice? I dont have time to check it out, left my things and packed for the afternoon outing.

1416hrs: Took the short drive over to the Open Air Museum. Car park charges 3TL for parking fee and the entrance charges are 15TL for main entrance and 8TL extra for Karanlik Kilise. In summary this is an area where there are many early churches carved into the rock, some with frescoes, some with slightly modern painted walls and ceilings. Needless to say, the extra entrance fee into the Karanlik Kilise means that this is the one with the best preserved paintings. Most of the faces have been chipped off except for the ones up high. Not too high so I guess they got midgets to hack it. Easy, old frescoes dont have images and are mostly red in coloured, some iron oxide based pigment. New ones are more colourful. The churches are next to each other, which makes me wonder who gets to go to which. And they get higher and higher, meaning that there is a slope to climb. The whole trip took two and a half hours for me. And that is hanging around waiting for tour groups to pass before I go in.

Goreme Open Air Museum: Interesting rock church

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Rock cut church

One more on the Open Air Museum

1658hrs: Done with the Open Air Museum and the sun is still out in full force. I spot the start of a trail so instead of going back to Goreme to a boring evening I decided to turn my GPS on and start trekking. The foot path is not just one and sometimes the whole area is full of it, so understandably it is easy to get lost. But where I am there are the loud whirl of tour buses so I will never get lost. Not like I can cover more than a kilometer or two in this terrain. After a few minutes I get to a cliff, but the landscape here is unique. I am at Rose Valley and the rocks are eroded to rounded cones here. Very surreal (if not for the plants growing all over the place). The camera comes out although it is close to impossible to balance myself with a DSLR around my neck. It could have been much better when the sun is much lower, close to sunset but no way I will wait 2 hours for that. I go on and before long I'm back at the car park. On the way back to the hotel I noticed a dirt track to my right that seems to go right into Rose Valley. I follow it for a kilometer or two and there are lookout points with rock structures that are like the ones that Goreme is famous for. By now the sun is starting to cast a slight hint of an orange glow, which is great! I stopped a couple times for the photoshoot and getting dust all over my bag and gears.

Now for the terrain, this part of Cappadocia is no where near flat. There are slopes. The stone that makes up all the structures here crumble easily. In fact it is entirely possible to pry a rock out of the block if you want to. With a finger. The path are mainly sandy, which makes walking up a slope that much difficult. Even more difficult considering I have a bag hanging on my right, left hand holding a lens bag, and a camera around my neck. Got to move with bent knee for the stability I need. And you have to be careful for sudden cliffs than drop tens of meter into the abyss. Not idea what is down there and no plan to find out either.

Nice Cappadocian landscape just across the road from the Open Air Museum. Will require some climbing though...

After a short walk, I got to see this nice vista that is, I think, Rose Valley

And more surreal landscape...

And of course this is not just pure desert here...

... there are flowers...

... and there are berries here.

But this is why I'm here.

And there are farms here too, among the scarred landscape.

And some strange looking rock formations

Walking around is not difficult with paths like this one...

And sometimes the signs can be so crude, you would wonder if you can trust it.

Sometimes these rock cut churches or houses can look the same, and they are everywhere you look

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But this is also the time when the light is the best for taking photos...

When 7pm came it was clear why this called the Rose Valley. The setting sun casts a red hue onto the whitish rocks. However I don't plan to stay here for too long after dusk. A short drive back and its time to stock up on the water, which all goes into the car boot and dinner consisting of Moussaka and pitta bread. Nice and light. 12.50TL for the meal in a restaurant.

Then it is time to call the day. Will have to do some research on what to do tomorrow now that I managed to get Goreme out of the way.

Dinner: Moussaka

Managed to snag a cave room tonight

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5 September 2009: This is a driving day. So the plan is this, I will cover all the places around Goreme that can be done by car (be surprised, rental cars do go to many places!). Off the main plan, at least Devrent Valley, then a caravanserai where travellers stop to rest during the Seljuk era, then swing down back to Urgup, down to Mustafapasa and down to Soganli to see more rock cut churches.

Before 0500hrs: Have no idea what time it is, but the morning prayers woke me up. My cave room is nice, fell asleep right away last night without thinking about it being haunted by earlier versions of Christian theology, if they believe in bad spirits then.

A quick nap,and I woke up again, this time seeing balloons being inflated down in the valley outside Goreme. There has to be at least 20 of them, quite popular even considering the price they charge for it. An earlier 2 balloons rose first and were brought towards east, and it is possible to see the others keeping the altitude low and drifting westwards. The sun is about to rise, and I don't know, watching sunrise from a balloon? Other than being romantically enticing, it is probably interesting in the sense it's another way to watch sunrise. I've seen sunrise while cruising in an aircraft, and its the same sun. Without being a spoil sport, I drove at 6am off to a point outside Goreme but was disappointed. All silhouette, wrong direction. Will have to return in the evening then. Time to go back to sleep.

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1003hrs: And the driving day starts. The sun is out in full force, almost a sunny f16 day. Oh, and this morning, wondering whats wrong with my M6 meter, I changed the battery and lo and behold it is sunny f16 accurate again. This means that up till now I have been overexposing by up to a stop. No worries, will develop it accordingly.

The good thing about driving is that I could stop anywhere I feel like stopping. I could just run off into the desert to look for the right shot. The plants in this desert around Goreme are the dry type, sometimes looking more like dry grass. It has one irritating thing about it. It propagates by seeds with spikes, and they do get just about everywhere I dont want it to be in. Like between your shoe and socks, so every step hurts. And it takes effort to pry it loose. Makes me try not to wander off the path too much. Started the drive out of Goreme up pass Cavusin and turned right towards Zelve.

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There is another outdoor museum, similar to the one in Goreme, but I will give this one a miss.

Next stop: Devrent Valley. In a small area cramped with tour buses, differential erosion in the valley caused a high concentration of pinnacles, much more than the other areas per square km. It is possible to walk between them, following paths. This is nothing very personal at all, you share the walk with countless tourists, but still not as busy as Goreme Open Air Museum. The bright sun and dark shadows make it impossible to shoot too much with my DSLR, so I make this my stroll. It is possible to branch off the road to Goreme to the left and have a view of the valley from an elevated position. The area is not too big, hence the high concentration of cones, and in less than half hour, I'm back at the car.

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Its time to swing up north again along a road to Avanos filled with potholes. At the outskirt of Avanos I follow a sign pointing towards Saruhan caravanserai, my first.

Leaving Avanos, Next stop: Saruhan Caravanserai in the middle of the desert

Saruhan is a caravanserai by its own in the middle of farm area and with a highway passing right in front of it. This one has been renovated and hosts dinner functions and evening whirling dervish dance. There is a small entrance fee charged to go in and entering the nice door with arch designed similar to most mosques I have been to in Turkey so far, I am in an open courtyard with resting area and covered rooms. It is possible to visit the venue of the dervish dance, which is in a cosy place on the inside,a square platform surrounded by seats. The roof is accessible via stone steps and there is a small mosque above the entrance. I was expecting caravanserai to be shabby wooden structures, not expecting this relative luxury. Must have been nice to rest here in ancient times while on the trade route.

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Saruhan Caravanserai: Whirling Dervish performance area

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Then it is time to backtrack towards Avanos, and then past Urgup to the south. After exiting Urgup, saw a sign indicating a church.

1223hrs: The road turns off the main road and a few km later, I am at Sarica Church, cut into the rock on a hill. There is an old man in a little inverted V shelter talking on his mobile. As I walked towards the church he came towards me, and I guessed it means there is an entrance fee. I paid a few TL and was issued a ticket. He then walked down with me and opened the gate into a door in the cliff face, and turned on the lights and explained where to go in Turkish. There are signboards and explanation panels inside, along with an award from the EU commission of something. The church has frescoes as usual, and this one is relatively bigger than the ones I have seen in the Open Air Museum yesterday.

On the way out the old man told me to explore the other churches carved into the rocks on the open valley floor but I told him it is too hot. What ensues is quite interesting. I dont understand Turkish but he mentioned he is 76 years old and he goes to all the churches everyday. So we chatted, hoping each other knew what the other was saying and in the hot afternoon sun. After taking a few photos of the old man, we waved goodbye and he walked me to the car before going back to his small shelter to wait for the next tourist.

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There is another church down the road, but decided to continue down south. Passed Mustafapasa, an interesting town. There are many greek sounding places when I ram right into the city center looking for the way out south. There are churches to be explored and greek houses. And the city center had buildings made out of the same sand coloured stones so it looks very uniform and pleasing to the eye. Before long, and a few loops in town, found my way out of town, towards Cemil, Taskinpasa and Sahinefendi.

Mustafapasa is an interesting small town with a greek feel to it

Downtown Mustafapasa

After Sahinefendi, the road climbs out of the valley floor hugging the cliff face till it reaches the top of the cliff. There are many warehouses carved into the rocks at the top on the right and left of the road and it is clear that these are modern, the doors and locks speaks plenty.

Natural warehouses by the road side just after Sahinefendi

The way to Guzeloz are all high up on a plateau, with farms on both side, very different from the earlier route before Sahinefendi. A few km later, the road drops down to the valley floor again and passed Guzeloz, a small agricultural town. Taking the road leading to Kayseri.

The plateau just after Sahinefendi has some of the nicest landscape views around this area

And roads straight as hell...

1418hrs: Soganli. The road to Soganli branches off the the right. Soon I am in a valley surrounded by tall eroded cliffs that are vertical on the top. The view is beautiful, nothing that can be captured in photos, just something to experience. This small town is poor.

Before hitting the ticket office, there is already a church on the road which required some climbing up rocks on worn steps.

After ticket office and paying the small entrance charge, I was explained to go in with my car, which is a good thing as I was not sure I am in a mood for ong walks. Turned left first and drove all the way to the end: Tahtali Kilise awaits me. This one required crossing a small wooden bridge and a climb up a small slope.

Then on the way out where I came in, the first church I skipped earlier is Church with Deer (Geyikli Kilise). No idea what deer, didn't see one on the frescoes.

Then time to make my way to the churches on the right of the entance. First on right: Karabas Kilise, then Yilani Kilise at the end. the next few churches are on a hill with footpath leading up to it. Up the hill, first church is the Domed church (Kubbeli Kilise) and after that, one called Hidden church. It is hidden alright. All these are set in the Soganli Valley, with strange rock structures everywhere.

It is a nice walk if not for the sun. On the top of cliff, it is possible to see little holes cut into the rock at impossible height, mostly with white markings on the door. This place used to be a burial necropolis in ancient times, has to be the Roman empire.

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Soganli: Square windows visible this time. I read somewhere the this was used as a burial crypt... Did not climb up there to check it out...

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A good hour or more later, backtrack along the cookie crumbs back to Urgup, passing through Mustafapasa again to take sone town photos.

1755hrs: Back around Goreme, and decided to catch the sunset at rose valley sunset point. This area is really for the sunset only, apart from being the trail head for rose valley. There is an entrance fee for cars at 1TL per person.

This rock formation outside Urgup is quite popular with the tour buses

Where there are tourists there are souvenir stalls. This is at the area where the twin rock formations are found.

Sun set over Uchisar Castle

1940hrs: Back in Goreme after sunset. Been a long day today. Been through a large area and diversity of sights. First was the Cappadocian landscape as told by tour brochures, then explored my first Caravanserai. On the way to Soganli, passed a few old style villages where agriculture is the main staple. And ending with sunset among the cones in the sunset point just outside Urgup.

Ground brush at Soganli

Self portrait at Sunset Panorama point outside Urgup

Dinner: Chicken Stew. Looks normal, but tastes good. Maybe I was hungry.

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Sunset over Cappadocia...

Tomorrow, my last day in Cappadocia, I will drive down to Ihlara Valley and on the way, visit some of the underground cities that the early christians lived in to escape from the invaders.

Continue to Cappadocia Day 3...